Stairway to Heaven

Originally Performed ByLed Zeppelin
Original AlbumLed Zeppelin IV (1971)
Music/LyricsPage, Plant
VocalsTrey, Page
Phish Debut2010-10-30
Last Played2010-10-30
Current Gap347
HistorianMartian Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)


Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” is the quintessential rock anthem.  It is the song that perfectly captures the essence of what many feel is the greatest rock and roll band of the 20th century.  “Stairway” is an artfully crafted work composed of several movements that gradually build in pace and intensity to a fiery crescendo and what may be the finest guitar solo ever laid down on vinyl.  The lyrics, reportedly composed in a stream of consciousness at Bron-Yr-Aur while listening to Jimmy Page work out the guitar lines, represent the pinnacle of Robert Plant’s songwriting career.  Yet it, like many other Zeppelin classics have been indicted as nothing more than acts of plagiarism.  Imitation it has been said, is the sincerest form of flattery, if so, Led Zeppelin could at least be considered the most reverent band ever in their homages to peers and predecessors.  They are the musical equivalent of a group of sculptors; artisans who have released finely honed rock monuments from the crude lumps of primitive stone they had dug up from the musical past.

Acknowledging the similarity of “Stairway’s”  opening guitar passage to Spirit’s instrumental “Taurus,” what transpires in the rest of the song is undeniable greatness.  Conceived while on a 1970 retreat to Bron-Yr-Aur, first recorded at Basing Street Studios in December of that year, and finished at Headley Grange in 1971, the centerpiece of Led Zeppelin IV is an epic journey that stands apart from the rest of Zeppelin’s own catalog and is arguably without peer in the annals of rock history.  Despite or perhaps because of this, the man who wrote the lyrics, can’t stand to perform the song.  Except for a few special occasions, Robert Plant has yet to reach the point in his life where he would “give his left nut” to perform it regularly with his old bandmates.

Led Zeppelin “Stairway to Heaven” The Song Remains the Same

Phish performed the transcendent finale of “Stairway to Heaven” to conclude their second set “TweeZeppelin” medley on the second night (10/30/10) of Halloween weekend festivities at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall.  The medley, in addition to “Stairway,” contained a tease of “Whole Lotta Love,” a brief roll in the hay with “Heartbreaker,” most of “Ramble On,” and the opening verse of “Thank You.”  Although Trey did not nail the solo, the squealing vocals were atrocious, and the lyrical flubs were numerous, the glory of this moment of “Tribute” to the greatest song in the world still raises the hairs on the back of my neck when I listen to it.  

If as suggested by the song selection in the rest of the medley, Phish had played Led Zeppelin II for their Halloween costume set; they may have elected to play “Stairway to Heaven” from Led Zeppelin IV as an encore.  Trey hints at this parallel universe reality at the conclusion of “Stairway” by thanking the crowd for a wonderful Halloween doubt freaking out those faithful psychonauts in the crowd that had ascended to that particular level of “Heaven” when all are one...and one is all.

”Stairway to Heaven” 10/30/10 Atlantic City, NJ

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